The only thing missing from Connor Shaw’s otherwise remarkable resume was a signature road win, and though starter Dylan Thompson will get credit for the win on the stat sheet, this was Connor’s night.
The South Carolina offense, which struggled mightily against Tennessee last week, was productive in terms of moving the ball but looked to be in danger of being shutout for the first time since 2006 after squandering multiple opportunities to score.
Connor Shaw had other plans for the Gamecocks. Despite being hampered by a knee sprain suffered late in last week’s game, Shaw was able to spark and complete one of the greatest comebacks in South Carolina football history.
Before the heroics however, came three long, demoralizing quarters of less than inspired football. This being the third consecutive road game for South Carolina and the farthest the Gamecocks have to travel all season, they could perhaps be forgiven their slow start. Two three-and-outs would fit the description of slow start, but the subsequent missed field goal followed by three turnovers was simply inexcusable.
The Gamecocks could not find any running room early and finished the game with a season low, 75 yards rushing. As a result, they looked to Dylan Thompson’s arm to get the ball moving, which it did. Thompson played reasonably well considering that the Missouri defense is tops in the SEC in interceptions and sacks, finishing the game 15-27 for 222 yards and one interception.
Drives of 54, 47, and 71 yards resulted in Elliot Fry’s second missed field goal of the year and two fumbles by the SEC’s leading rusher, Mike Davis. All three of the Gamecocks’ turnovers were on Missouri’s side of the field, including a fumble on the two-yard line and an interception at Missouri’s own ten-yard line.
Defensively, this South Carolina unit has been underrated all year, and while they have received justified criticism for not being able to finish games, they still rank in the top five of every major statistical category in the Southeastern Conference. Considering that this Missouri offense was averaging 44 points per game and never scored fewer than 36, it is not a stretch to say this defensive performance was dominant.
The Gamecocks have been vulnerable to big plays this year and had another face-palm moment when, on third-and-eight from Missouri’s own four-yard line, they gave up a 96-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers also put together an impressive 9-play, 77-yard touchdown drive midway through the first quarter, but the Gamecock defense was able to force an interception and four punts out of this explosive Missouri offense in the first half.
While the offense was moving the ball, albeit without scoring any points, it was the stifling defense that is the reason Shaw even had an opportunity to lead an epic comeback in the second half. Whatever defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said to his group at halftime worked, as the defense only allowed 143 yards in the second half, three points on two field goal attempts, and held the Tigers to 1-7 on third down conversion attempts.
After winning against Florida last week, many pundits were high on the talents of backup quarterback Maty Mauk. The Gamecocks held the hot-handed Mauk to only 10-25 passing and 12 yards rushing on ten carries. Jadeveon Clowney continued his good form and Kelcy Quarles moved to second in the SEC in sacks with 7, registering his first multiple sack game of the season.
After South Carolina’s first possession of the second half saw more of the same, as Dylan Thompson led the Gamecocks into Tiger territory only to turn the ball over on downs. Steve Spurrier decided that it was time for a change. Connor Shaw, who is seemingly always injured and who always plays through it, almost immediately made a difference.
Even though his first series was a 5-play drive that ended in a punt, the defense was energized, forcing a three-and-out. and thus began the comeback.
With 1:46 left in the third quarter when the Gamecocks took over at their own 35, Joe Tessitore was already breaking out the statistics involving Spurrier being shutout—zero times at Florida and not since 2006 since being at South Carolina. The ensuing possession was the stuff of legends. A fourth and four conversion at midfield and several clutch third down conversions—including a 19-yard catch and run by Mike Davis on third and 19—kept this remarkable, momentum-shifting drive alive. With a little over 12 minutes to go in the game, a pinpoint pass from Shaw coupled with some fancy footwork from Bruce Ellington saw the Gamecocks cut the deficit to ten.
Missouri looked like they were going to ice the game, after a big play on first down took them all the way to the South Carolina 36. The defense stiffened though, and they forced a field goal attempt, which, after a Dan Marino “laces in” hold sailed wide left, added to the Gamecocks’ momentum.
Connor Shaw put together another masterfully crafted drive as he completed 5-of-6 passes and made a few plays with his feet, and though they could not punch it in the endzone, the offense did enough to allow Elliot Fry to kick a 20-yard chip shot to put the game within one possession.
The defense forced a clutch three-and-out, courtesy of a huge stop on third-and-one, and gave their offense the ball with just over three minutes to play. After already having come so far, the Gamecocks were not about to fall short of what would be the biggest comeback in SEC play this year. Connor Shaw made sure of it, completing 5-of-6 passes on the drive including the icing on the cake, two-yard out route to Nick Jones that tied the game against all odds. Shaw finished the game 20/29 with three touchdowns and more than 200 yards in less than two quarters.
At the end of regulation, South Carolina had held Missouri to 27 points fewer than their season average and fewer than 400 yards of total offense for a team that was averaging well over 500.
In overtime, where South Carolina was 0-2 all-time, they defended first but could not stop the run, as Missouri scored in four plays. A 16-yard pass to Bruce Ellington set the Gamecocks up with a first-and-goal from the nine. Subsequent incompletions and a six-yard loss on a sack gave South Carolina a fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line.
Needing a touchdown to stay alive, they had to go for it on fourth down, and Connor Shaw, with the ice in his veins, calmly delivered a strike to the corner of the endzone, finding Ellington for his second touchdown of the game. Ellington was tied for the lead in receptions with ten for the game and added 136 yards to boot.
Next time out, the Gamecocks could not find the endzone, but Fry showed why he won the job of starting kicker as he hit a clutch field goal to take the lead on the road in overtime against the No. 5 team in the country.
Marcus Murphy’s 17-yard run did not inspire offense, but once again, when they needed it most, the defense stepped up and only allowed three yards on the next three plays and forced a field goal attempt that would send the game into a third overtime.
Andrew Baggett, who was 1-2 on the day, was looking at a 24-yard chip shot—hardly longer than an extra point—from the left hash. It was a foregone conclusion that he would make the field goal and the game would continue…until he didn’t. The ball rattled off of the unkind iron, and the Gamecocks had won.
As if the SEC East needed anything else to muddy it up, a South Carolina team that twice lost games that should have ended hopes of making it to Atlanta, is now one Missouri loss from being atop the East. The defense stepped up and made plays when they needed to and kept South Carolina in the game despite an offensive blooper reel that was the first half.
At the heart of the comeback, and all of South Carolina’s unprecedented success in recent years though, was the warrior and South Carolina legend, Connor Shaw, who’s warrior-like mentality, which can never overstated, will always give the Gamecocks a chance.
After the game, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said that he “wouldn’t take no NFL Hall of Famer or no other quarterback over him” (Gamecockcentral).
Clutch. Efficient. Humble. Winner. After years of mediocrity and heartbreak, Connor Shaw is the hero that Columbia deserves and without a doubt, the one that they need.
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